Stage racing wasn't always a thing in NASCAR, and is probably one of the newest changes the sport has made over the years. The organization didn't implement the idea of stage racing until 2017 in an attempt to make racing more exciting and award teams stage points.
Stage racing offers exciting racing and incentive
How would stages make racing more exciting, you might ask? The truth is that every time NASCAR green-flags a restart, there is a good chance of a great pass or a big wreck happening. Although these sometimes happen on their own throughout the race, there are other times where the opportunity doesn't present itself.
Furthermore, the introduction of stages gave NASCAR drivers an extra incentive by competing for highly coveted stage points. The reason these points were so valuable is that they are tallied up at the end of a race and decide how many points each driver walks away with.
You also earn playoff points per stage you win, which is added to your postseason total.
How do stage points work?
Let's say Chase Elliott won a race at Pocono Raceway, earning him a total of 40 points. Let's also say that he finished fourth in the second stage, earning him seven points, and second in the first stage, giving him nine points. This, along with the five points given to the race winner, adds up to a grand total of 61 points.
Another driver, Ryan Blaney, finished third at Pocono and earned himself 38 points. With that said, however, he also finished first in both Stages 1 and 2, netting him 20 extra points. Not only could that be the difference between making the playoffs or not, it also gives drivers different points variables to play with.
How many stages in a race and how long?
While there are usually three stages in each NASCAR race, the exception to the rule is the Coca-Cola 600, which is given a fourth stage due to the longer distance. To determine stage length, NASCAR usually splits the first 60 percent of the race between the first two stages. and then runs 40 percent of the race in the final stage.
One example of this would be the Daytona 500. which consisted of two 65-lap stages. This brings the total laps to 130 and sets the field up for a 70-lap shootout to the end. The last stage is always the longest distance of the entire race, and usually involves a pitstop as well.
Why did NASCAR implement stage racing?
It all just comes down to excitement and incentive at the end of the day. Stage racing is simply NASCAR's way of bunching the field up a couple of times and trying to create something interesting. It's also an incentive to race as hard as you can, no matter what lap it is, which has made for some good racing in the past.
NASCAR has come to accept a lot of artificial excitement into their product, and stage racing is a result of that. Fortunately for the sport, a lot of younger fans seem to dig into the Saturday night dirt heat feel of the race stages, and aren't turned off by it. Older fans, however, believe this was a crucial blow to NASCAR's diehard fans.